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View from Behind the Handlebars:
Cycling Solo: Ireland to Istanbul
Co-authored by Hazel Edwards and Trevelyan Quest EdwardsReviewed by Courtney McLennan
Former literary contributor Lots Wife Monash University
When does a holiday become a journey? And at what point does a journey become a personal quest? Cycling Solo: Ireland to Istanbul is co-authored by Hazel Edwards (writer of the children’s classic There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake) and her son, Trevelyan Quest Edwards, (the now 31-year-old inspiration behind the Hippo series). However, the novel distinguishes itself from the category of mere ‘holiday fiction.’
Based on Internet blogs hastily posted in Internet cafés throughout Ireland, Scotland, France and Austria among other destinations, the novel centres on Trevelyan Edwards’ physically excruciating and yet elevating experience cycling along roads, paths and even goat trails for 5 months from Ireland to Istanbul armed solely with a compass and a sodden map. This is no vacation account, and while there are staple holiday reminiscent points, happy snapping and enjoying the tourist sights from behind the handlebars, there is no souvenir shopping, and not a crowded Contiki tour bus in sight.
This is where Cycling Solo departs from the usual conventions of what may be termed ‘journey’ fiction. Through the inventive use of blog postings, the account is relevant and attractive to contemporary, technologically proficient readers. This form of writing enables the reader to intimately follow the daily trials of the writer on his 9000 kilometre journey. The reader is also able to engage with the sometimes harsh, often striking and always exhilarating environment and experience the writer presents. Via the immediacy that only a web log affords, the reader is able to experience every push of the bicycles’ pedals, every sickening tyre blowout and the extreme physical and mental exhaustion of cycling and travelling alone in unknown and often unforgiving territory.
Through humour and the interesting approach of a parent-and-son writing team, Cycling Solo is not simply a backpacking novel, nor is it solely of interest to cycling enthusiasts. Credit-card mix-ups, brushes with Irish bureaucracy and a lost backpack of supplies, all present challenges which are dealt with in the course of what really is a stunning journey and personal ‘quest,’ a fitting term which, as the co-author points out, is his ‘real middle name.’
Hazel Edwards notes the strength of Cycling Solo by considering readers’ hoping to gain the experience of a journey, without enduring it firsthand. “It’s not possible to pack everything into a life, but if you can read someone else’s perspective you gain that second-hand experience,” she said in 2006. Indeed, Cycling Solo: Ireland to Istanbul confirms that the view from behind the handlebars is often far more enriching than from the bus seat. It is this spirit for adventure and determination to succeed which lie at the heart of the novel: an account that is as rewarding as the author’s personal quest.